Colin Nancarrow was a paper punch artist. After writing some (very good) music for traditional ensembles, he decided to write solely for the player piano. He would punch in each note by hand, at the rate of something like a dozen an hour. Committed to--or through---paper, with more allegience to abstract ideals than to human abilities, Nancarrow's music can be beyond human capabilities.
Margaret Leng Tan took this seeming-impossibility as a simple challenge. Tan uses two toy pianos, which because of their limited octave range challenge a performer to keep lines separate. But the bigger challenge is in teaching oneself how to, as Rahsaan Roland Kirk put it when he played two instruments at once, "splitting the brain." To play in two key signatures at once is not too difficult, but to play in two time signatures is a wrenching experience. Margaret Leng Tan's mind/hand complex was up the the challenge. The hail-on-the-rooftop clatter of the keys almost but not quite hides the deliberately out-of-synch layering of these pieces, and Tan's command of their complexities.
The first Study is quick, difficult to sort out. The second is slower, with hesitations that suggest a waltz without a hint of 3/4 time. The uppermost notes here present a short melody so close to "Whistle While You Work" that the lyrics will unavoidably come into your head.Here
, perhaps because the piece is less frantic than 1 or 3, the music's feel is less mechanical--in fact, the loss of a identifiable sturcture in places makes the music seem all the more human. Those who know Frank Zappa's "King Kong as Played by 3 Deranged Good Humor Trucks" will find a realted sensibility at work here---Tan is interested in the fun to be found in complexity.And
her enjoyment shines through.
Through some fumbling on my part, I managed to open archive files for both these piece and Tan's performance of John Kennedy's "Fanfare.." for toy cymbals simultaneously. They played together beautifully. Try it... Your split mind will enjoy it.